NJ Cops Off the Hook for Pedestrian’s Death

     (CN) – The family of a pedestrian killed by a red-light runner who tried to flee police across two New Jersey towns does not have a case for municipal liability, a federal judge ruled.
     Michelle Black and Erin Walsh sought damages from Orange and South Orange, as well as each community’s police departments and officers, for the death of James Walsh on Feb. 9, 2009.
     James had been in a South Orange crosswalk when Frank Bradley hit him with his car after driving into the opposite lane to bypass cars stopped at a red light.
     Bradley had been fleeing police after running a red light in Orange, N.J.
     Rennie Wilson, the Orange officer who gave Bradley chase, had announced that he was nearing the township of South Orange while talking to a police dispatcher about the vehicle.
     Walsh’s widow and daughter said procedure required Wilson to first get permission from headquarters before continuing the pursuit into South Orange.
     Though Wilson had allegedly lost sight of Bradley several blocks before the fatal collision, a South Orange police officer who was previously unaware of the pursuit said he witnessed the tragedy.
     U.S. District Judge Claire Cecchi noted last week that the three South Orange officers who witnessed various parts of the chase all said they were unaware of any radio transmissions from Orange police until after the accident.
     She granted the municipalities summary judgment on Sept. 23.
     “The facts of this case demonstrate that, although some South Orange officers witnessed various portions of the chase, South Orange officials were in no way involved with the pursuit prior to the accident,” the unpublished ruling states. “In fact, a central point of plaintiffs’ argument against Orange is that its officers failed to contact South Orange to get permission for the pursuit.”
     The plaintiffs also failed to show that officers have a “custom” of not strictly following the policy on intercity pursuits, according to the ruling.
     “The fact that Officer Wilson ignored the guidelines in this particular instance and that [Orange Police Lt. Michael] Juliano testified that ‘[s]ome people allow more pursuits, others don’t,’ is insufficient as a matter of law to establish ‘that there was an obvious pattern of misconduct relating to compliance with its procedures,'” Cecchi wrote.
     The judge tossed aside claims that Orange police officers were involved in 60 vehicular pursuits resulting in 17 accidents and injuries between 2008 and 2009 alone.
     “While Officer Wilson did not recall receiving pursuit training from the police department after his time at the academy and prior to the incident, Lt. Juliano testified that the policies and procedures were reviewed with officers ‘twice a year during requalification, at least,'” Cecchi wrote. “Further, Officer Wilson’s testimony makes clear that he had an understanding of the police pursuit policy at the time of the incident, such that he knew he was supposed to receive permission prior to entering into an adjacent town.”
     That is not sufficient, however, to support a failure-to-train theory, the ruling states.
     The court deferred ruling on the state-law claims, which may be refiled in state court.

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